Today’s song is ‘Rags to Riches’. This song is a 1953 song by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. The music is based on a Spanish or a Latin American melody.
The best-known version of the song was recorded by Tony Bennett with Percy Faith and his orchestra. Their recording was Number 1 for eight weeks on the ‘Billboard Hot 100’ chart in 1953 and became a gold record. In the same year, a version by David Whitfield reached Number 3 in the British charts and one by ‘Billy Ward and His Dominoes’ with Jackie Wilson singing lead made Number 2 on ‘Billboard's R& B Chart’. Later recordings by ‘Sunny and the Sunliners’ reached Number 45 in 1963 and Elvis Presley also reached Number 33 in 1971 on the ‘Billboard Hot 100’ chart.
Tony Bennett's version was used at the beginning of the film ‘Goodfellas’, just after Henry Hill closes the trunk of the car and says in voice-over, "As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster." The song was also used as a background in other visual series on television or film.
Anyone who is 60 or over, and who was brought up during the 1940s, 50s, and 60s will have doubtlessly experienced the same material privations as any working-class family then did. The richest among the working classes back then were those born into two-parent families with fewer than three children, and where the man of the house had aspired to the brown-coated status of working foreman or supervisor.
Most families had three or four children and although I was the oldest of seven children, this was far from being unusual. I knew several families with ten or more children and there were few mothers who had not lost a child in pregnancy or had had a child of theirs die during infancy.
When I went to Canada for a few years in 1963-65, my mother was still behind with the grocer’s weekly bill with whom she’d had an account with ever since the family migrated to West Yorkshire from Ireland in the mid-1940s. All during my life growing up in a family of seven children, my mother paid for this week’s groceries to feed the family with next week’s wage of my mining father. We always lived one week behind our weekly household income, along with most other working-class families on the estate.
Like many children of the time, the clothes on our backs were rarely new or un-darned, and our footwear never kept out the snow and the rain. Our shoes or boots would be reinforced in both their toe and heel by steel tips; and in time, they’d also be under-soled with stiff cardboard. It wouldn’t have mattered if a good fairy or an Irish elf had given us two shillings in pennies every morning of our lives to spend on sweets or buns in the shop on our way to school, because, by the time we’d reached the shops, we’d have lost every penny from it slipping through the holes in our trouser pockets as soon as the money entered them.
Children of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s lived in a much different world than do children today. The richest child then would have immeasurably less to live on than the poorest child has today! We experienced a ‘live and make do’ world; a time when respect for self, family and community mattered as much as having a roof over one’s head, food in one’s stomach and clothes on one’s back. All these latter things could be obtained by hard work, but respect had to be earned, and without it, one might as well have been dead and buried. It was often the only thing that an honest working-class man ever owned.
So, while my generation was materially poorer than children born today are, I’ve not the slightest doubt that in terms of values, respect, willingness to share, community spirit and law abidingness, we were much wealthier, and happier than children of today are.
Despite the material poverty that surrounded we were never as needy in our wants and desires as children today are. No matter how much they have today, it is never quite enough, and they want more. With no computers, i-pads, mobiles, television and electronic games, we were left to whatever our imagination could conjure up. Our ability to use our imagination in creating games from articles found around the streets and the home like chalk, pebbles, sticks, dustbin lids, brush handles, etc was all we needed, along with boundless energy and bags of fresh air that didn’t cost a penny, to keep us forever occupied.
And, when these items weren’t readily available, we found a lamp post against which one child would stand as a cushion, while six more children would crouch down in a rugby scrum line beneath each other’s legs, in the shape of a horse’s back. Then, another team of seven children would all jump as hard as they could on the backs of the other team. The aim was to make the crouched horse collapse if possible. If the human-horse held up, the sides would reverse, and ‘horse mounter’ would become ‘horse-mounted’. Children were too mentally stimulated ever to know the feeling of boredom and their walking and constant playing ensured that they were a fitter and less fat nation of growing adults than we see today. As for learning about the birds and the bees, that too would be gleaned from innocent games like ‘postman’s knock’ and discovery in the park after dark or having a kiss on the neighbour’s shed roof during a game of ‘truth, kiss or dare’, or the more ambitious teenage game of ‘I will if you will’.
We are the generation who came from rags to riches but who stayed forever rooted in what really matters where a cohesive and happy society really counts.
Love and peace Bill xxx